Debunking the 81%

Many of the 81 percent [of white Evangelicals that voted for Trump] were not influenced by church leadership. The data tells us that most American evangelicals are not looking to their pastors for political guidance, and most pastors are not willing to touch the subject lest they get burned. Only 4 in 10 respondents told us they wanted advice from their pastor on political issues. And only 4 in 10 told us their pastor uses Scripture to address political topics at least once a month or more. Put another way, many evangelicals are likely turning to culture—and often the most outraged voices—rather than the church for political discipleship
Source: Why Evangelicals Voted Trump: Debunking the 81% | Christianity Today

Just don't get political, though

All issues of any importance are both political and moral: for morality is simply the inside, and politics the outside, of every human problem.
SOURCE: Brian Wicker, “Morality and Politics,” Manchester Guardian Weekly (January 4, 1968). Stott, J. (2018). The Preacher’s Notebook: The Collected Quotes, Illustrations, and Prayers of John Stott. (M. Meynell, Ed.). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Don’t rock the boat, they said.

Nothing like a midday run to clear the mind. I just came to grips with the fact that—as an idealist, not a pragmatist—I will always be a thorn in someone’s side.

As a confirmed people-pleaser it’s not a fun realization, but there’s a certain freedom in being fully aware of the situation.

Effort Is Not the Opposite of Grace

Richard Foster, author of The Celebration of Discipline:

There’s a back and forth—there is a role that we play in our relational life with God. That role is, as Paul puts it, that we are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice.

Now, how do you do that? I’d say primarily—not exclusively, but primarily—through the classical disciplines of the spiritual life. That’s how we offer the mind, the heart, the spirit, the body before God. Then, at that point, the disciplines have come to the end of their tether. There is no righteousness in them at all—none. They just allow us to place ourselves before God. The grace of God steps into that and begins to do work we can hardly imagine.

The point of this is that I cannot change my own heart. I cannot change anybody else’s heart. That isn’t my business—that’s God’s business.

Source: Richard Foster: Effort Is Not the Opposite of Grace | Christianity Today

I believe in angels

Today, we celebrate St. Michael and all angels. In a particularly dark, challenging time in my life as a child, I had a vision of an angel. It was a split second, hardly even a moment, but I remember it vividly. I was doing homework, alone in my family’s apartment living room. I felt that feeling of someone watching over your shoulder, so I glanced up and caught a glimpse of a figure in a white robe (much like an alb) with long, curly black hair and face so bright and bursting with light that I couldn’t make out any features.

I can’t explain the assurance I received from that God had not abandoned me, that he was with me, and was watching over me.

From The Book of Common Prayer:

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Niceness is not kindness

In fact, “niceness” is often the enemy of kindness. “Nice” is often code for “avoiding conflict” or “passive-aggressive.” Now, speaking ill of others, or speaking in insulting, mean ways is always wrong. Civility is essential. But leaders cannot fail to name the issues simply to avoid embarrassment or hurt feelings. There are worse things than embarrassment, and it’s impossible to lead while obscuring the obstacles.

In the Church, especially, Love can carry us through the humiliation, through the pain, through the discomfort of opening addressing what we’d rather not talk about.

Collect for social justice from the Book of Common Prayer

Almighty God, who created us in your own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

My favorite quote from Blessed Mother Teresa

Today we remember Mother Teresa. She said:

Jesus is the Word – to be spoken. Jesus is the Truth – to be told. Jesus is the Way – to be walked. Jesus is the Light – to be lit. Jesus is the Life – to be lived. Jesus is the Love – to be loved. Jesus is the Joy – to be shared. Jesus is the Sacrifice – to be offered. Jesus is the Peace – to be given. Jesus is the Bread of Life – to be eaten. Jesus is the Hungry – to be fed. Jesus is the Thirsty – to be satiated. Jesus is the Naked – to be clothed. Jesus is the Homeless – to be taken in. Jesus is the Sick – to be healed. Jesus is the Lonely – to be loved. Jesus is the Unwanted – to be wanted. Jesus is the Leper – to wash his wounds. Jesus is the Beggar – to give him a smile. Jesus is the Drunkard – to listen to him. Jesus is the Retarded – to protect him. Jesus is the Little One – to embrace him. Jesus is the Blind – to lead him. Jesus is the Dumb – to speak for him. Jesus is the Crippled – to walk with him. Jesus is the Drug addict – to befriend him. Jesus is the Prostitute – to remove from danger and befriend. Jesus is the Prisoner – to be visited. Jesus is the Old – to be served.

A prayer for our times

Righteous Lord God, you love justice and hate evil, and you care for the weak, vulnerable, needy, and the oppressed. Bless our country and its leaders with the wisdom of righteousness and peace. May they secure the right of protection for the unborn, equality of educational opportunities for the young, work for the unemployed, health care for the sick, and food for the hungry. Help management and labor to cooperate for the common good, giving honest work and receiving a fair wage. Deliver our land from all tribal, social, and religious strife, and make our national life more pleasing in your holy sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Stott, J. (2018). The Preacher’s Notebook: The Collected Quotes, Illustrations, and Prayers of John Stott. (M. Meynell, Ed.). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

The Discipline of Proclaiming the Gospel

We’re talking about a discipline of proclaiming the Gospel as a practice of faithful presence.

In the fellowship of the faithful, we might sometimes be tempted to think that we have moved beyond the simple Gospel truths. In reality, we never move beyond them, only “further up, and deeper in” as C. S. Lewis wrote.[1] As we discern the presence of Christ, as we proclaim the Good News of his faithful presence with us both in history and in the present and in the future, we learn what it means to live in light of his Lordship in every area of our lives together.

Now, I have a special responsibility to proclaim the Gospel every Sunday and connect every part of the Scriptures to the Good News, and teach what that means for our lives today. That’s a crucial part of my vocation as a pastor and priest, but each of you has a responsibility to faithfully proclaim the Gospel as well. We all need to be proclaiming the Gospel to one another.

When some of us are suffering, we need to hear together that God came to be with us. When some of us are guilty and full of shame, we need remind one another that we’re forgiven. When some of us begin to feel despair as society spirals out of control, we need to help each other see we’re part of a different Kingdom and we have a different King than the nations of this world. As each of us draws closer to physical death, we must continue to celebrate Jesus’ victory over death.

As we proclaim the Gospel to one another each Sunday,

we are placing ourselves and our situations under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

As we gather in our home with Christians and non-Christians alike in an intentional way, there will always be opportunities to declare Jesus as Lord.

J.I. Packer said,

“Hospitality is the evangelism of the 21st century.”

As we open our lives to others by being faithfully present with our friends and neighbors, every situation, every conversation, will present opportunities to humbly witness to the Lordship of Jesus. There will come a moment, as we are faithfully present, where we will be called to say, “I have some Good News for you.”

Out in the world, we go as guests. Just like the disciples in Luke 10, we go in humility and weakness to be present first. Then we have a proclamation to make…and all we have to offer in that proclamation is Jesus. We are so tempted to bring own solutions to problems, our own ideas, our own skills to the table…but in the half circle, we are called set those things aside so we can witness to the Lordship of Christ above all.

St. Peter wrote,

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…

(1 Peter 3:15, ESV)

It starts by setting Jesus apart as holy—above all—in your heart. You are to treasure him above everything and anything else. You must believe—at the deepest level—that he truly is the Resurrected Son of God, he has saved the world, and this Good News demands urgently to be shared.

Without hopefulness, no one will ask you for the reason your life is different.

Without gentleness, you risk hurting those who need healing desperately.

Without respect, you may push away those that desire something more than what the world offers, but simply don’t know where to turn.

Living this out demands intentionality and relationship over time.

One more J.I Packer quote:

“The truth is that real personal evangelism is very costly, just because it demands of us a really personal relationship with the other man”[2] Brothers and sisters, in order to be faithful as we are present with one another, with our neighbors, and with the world, we must faithfully proclaim the Gospel.

[1] Lewis. The Last Battle.

[2] Packer. Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God, p. 82

Sow good habits

Tell me what good it is to weed a garden if we do not plant good seed…. Sow good habits and dispositions. To be free from a bad habit does not mean we have formed a good one. We need to take the further step of forming good habits and dispositions to replace what we have left behind. . - John Chrysostom

Jen Pollock Michel on the limits of public intellectuals

To satiate the ravenous demands of digital readers, a public intellectual today might easily ignore the limits of her knowledge and attempt to become as boundary-less as the unbounded waters of the internet...

As believers, we affirm one of the paradoxes of the human condition put this way by G. K. Chesterton: We are “chief of creatures” but creatures nonetheless. We are called to do good work courageously and faithfully, and part of our courage and faithfulness involves admitting the responsibilities that do and do not belong to us.

God isn’t taking applications for Messiah; he’s already sent one. Accordingly, let’s give to our public intellectuals the permission to say more about less. 

- Jen Pollock Michel

The Discipline of Reconciliation

Antagonism is that spirit of opposition that seems so prevalent in society today. The world runs on antagonism, says David Fitch. Do any of us really disagree? Us vs. them seems to be the default worldview in our culture; indeed in most cultures. This is of course a direct result of the Fall. It started with the very first family, when, as result of sin (not as part of the Divine Plan) God says to Eve that her desire will be for her husband but he will rule over her (Gen. 3:16).

It continued with many heartbreaking examples from the Old Testament. The estrangement between Joseph and his brothers, the relational and power struggle between David and Saul, even the bickering among the disciples all stand out as examples of an antagonistic world view continuing even into the New Testament.

If you want to see antagonism in the present time, check the news.

Log on to Facebook. Maybe just go to your next family get-together.  You’ll find plenty of antagonism between individuals. You’ll also see it between political parties, Christian denominations, and along racial lines. There’s a lot of disagreement, a lot of tension, a lot of hurt out there, and while it’s often out in the open, it also sometimes hides under a thin veneer of sugary sweet niceness.

Antagonism says I know best, I should be in control, you’re probably wrong, you don’t deserve to be forgiven, and that’s that. If you don’t like how I do things, maybe you should leave…My way or highway.

We don’t have to look far to discern a spirit of antagonism. And we don’t have to use a lot of our imagination to see where antagonism leads us. Antagonism necessarily leads to broken relationships, divided societies, emotional and physical violence, and–ultimately–death. This stands in direct opposition to Christ’s mission to bring life, and life abundant, and by submitting to death reconcile all things whether on heaven or on earth to himself (Col 1:20) So Jesus gives us a better way. He gives a discipline and a mission of reconciliation, starting with Matthew 18.

This process Jesus gives us seems so simple (first talk to the person, then bring another person, then, tell it to the church, etc), and yet it’s so rare in our churches today! Actually, it’s always been rare in churches. Even very old commentaries lament the fact that so few congregations even try to live out Jesus’ instructions on this point. Why does it seem so difficult?

I believe it seems so difficult because most of us wish to avoid conflict, and of course we wish to avoid conflict for a variety of reasons that all boil down to fear. Sometimes we are too prideful to consider that we may wrong. We have this pride because we think if we are wrong, that means we are somehow less valuable, powerful, or loved. Sometimes we’re afraid of damaging the relationship by moving into confrontation. The irony is that more often than not avoiding the confrontation actually does more damage. Sometimes, we think we’re being divisive by being open about being hurt, frustrated, or confused regarding someone else’s actions. Yet the fact is that the relational division is already there—ignoring it does nothing to move us toward healing, but frank, open, and kind confrontation does.

Of course, we don’t do any of this alone. It’s in this very specific context of confrontation, forgiveness, and reconciliations that Jesus promises that wherever two are three are gathered in his name, he too will be faithfully present. Part of the Good News of Jesus is that you don’t have to be afraid of confrontation anymore, because you yourself are secure in Jesus, and he is with you in the Spirit! You don’t have to be afraid because your own reconciliation to God through his death on the cross has already been accomplished! Because he was raised from the dead, you can have confidence that you too will be raised from the dead. If there’s no reason to fear death, there’s no reason to fear anything—even a little confrontation.

2 Corinthians 5:14-16 says,

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh…

This means now, because Christ died for everyone, no one is our enemy. Not really.

Because we have been reconciled to God, we don’t have to respond to any offense or antagonism in kind. We can offer a message of reconciliation as ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). I believe the discipline of reconciliation starts with each one of us personally submitting to Christ and being reconciled to God. This happens as we examine ourselves and repent of our sins. Neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever consider the idea of a “lone Christian.” All the writers of the New Testament assume Christians live, work, and worship together in extraordinarily intimate ways. So it follows that as Christians, we neither sin nor are forgiven in isolation.  If this is true it also means our sins can never be wholly personal and private. They always have an impact on the community, and it is often helpful, even for sins that seem to be very private, to receive a pronouncement of forgiveness from an authorized representative of the church. Throughout the New Testament we are urged to confess our sins to one another. This is why we offer the sacramental rite of reconciliation with a priest for anyone that wants to take advantage of it. This is why I make my own confession regularly to a priest as well. We can start reconciliation in the community of the faithful by making a habit of confessing our sins, receiving forgiveness, and following through with the process Jesus has given us in the Bible when we have personal conflict in the Church.

We can’t neglect the discipline there as we meet for table fellowship with our friends and neighbors, because reconciliation is essential for table fellowship. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul urges Christians to settle their every day disputes in the church, and not in the courts of the world. He is talking about situations where nonbelievers will witness what is going on…and how we settle disputes among ourselves is a witness to how we are discerning and tending to the presence of Christ among us.

David Fitch says, “The discipline of reconciliation extends into everyday life. But it is always preceded by presence.” We have to be willing to be with the people we have wronged and have wronged us. We have to be willing to stick it out, to engage in the process of reconciliation in our every day lives by continuing to meet together faithfully throughout the week and in doing that, our neighbors see Christ. They see a Kingdom where differences are handled differently than in the rest of the world.

Living this out in the world is hard and challenging, but simple. I think we all know there’s brokenness everywhere…at our work places, in our neighborhoods, in various social situations. What we do in those places is prayerfully consider where God is calling us to simply be with the broken. We don’t go to fix their problems, their marriages, their conflict. We can’t fix those things. We simply go as a guest, listening with compassion and looking for a simple opportunity to offer the gift of reconciliation that we have been given in Jesus. This can be as simple as saying, “I hear you, and my heart breaks for you. I believe Jesus loves you and has forgiven every wrong done by every person. What would it look like to receive or extend forgiveness? How can I pray for you or support you in this?”

I believe Christians have special responsibility to be present wherever there is antagonism, injustice, and brokenness. I believe Christians have a responsibility to be present in prisons, among the homeless and with the mentally ill. I think Christians can and should be present at protests—sometimes as participants being faithfully present advocates for justice, sometimes as chaplains, offering and modeling a better way. Christians should be present wherever there is an opportunity to offer healing, wholeness, and reconciliation in Jesus.

10 brief thoughts on getting paid as a priest

Preface: I’m not saying here every senior pastor must be paid, or be full time, or that full-time, paid pastors are even necessarily optimal in every situation. There are pros and cons to the various ways of supporting clergy, and that’s what this is about.

  1. I believe the pastoral load, evangelistic efforts, and the tasks of administrating the church should be shared by the whole congregation--every member--paid and unpaid in some measure. Full-time doesn't mean "does everything."
  2. That said, I am grateful to be paid so I can devote a great deal of time to prayer, study, caring for people at their work places and during business hours, and so on.
  3. And personally, if I were part-time, I wouldn't have much bandwidth to do much more than prepare the sermon.
  4. If I was part time or unpaid my sermons likely wouldn't be as helpful because I wouldn't have as much time to connect with the community.
  5. Sometimes there are long stretches where it is tempting for introverts to like myself to retreat to my office and not truly engage with the world outside my bubble. Bi-vocational pastors have some built in accountability and opportunity in this area I don't have.
  6. Being full-time at church is a blessing to my family that I don't take for granted, because I'm flexible enough to help with things like pick-ups from school.
  7. If you love your work (as I do) and you see it more as "vocation" than "job" (as I do), and you are very aware of the intense level need around you (as I am) you it's all-too-easy to forget to rest (as I too often do).
  8. Related to #7: Full-time still isn't enough time to accomplish everything I want to accomplish. Even full-timers must be aware of their limits.
  9. Relying on the community of faith for the bulk of your financial support is an act of faith that God will provide your daily bread.
  10. A stipend is funds you receive to live on (like an allowance), so you can be what you are called to be. A salary is payment given in exchange for the performance specific duties. It may be semantics, but in light of the crazily diverse range of things that I do, and the erratic "schedule" that I keep, and the ethical shadiness of "getting paid to pray," I think of the financial support I receive as the former more than the latter.

The discipline of the Lord's Table

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

The discipline of coming together regularly around the Lord’s Table helps us return to Christ and trains us to tend to Christ’s presence not just here, but everywhere we find ourselves during the week.

Think about some of what we do every time we gather around the table:

First, we say the Creed. We renew our commitment to Christ and his kingdom by professing explicitly that we believe he is Lord, he God, he is alive and the fundamental implications of that.

Second, we exchange the peace. We externalize our desire and God’s plan that we would be at peace with one another because we are peace with God.

Third, we say prayers of thanks and blessing for the great works of God on our behalf, and we explicitly invite the Holy Spirit to empower us to be more like Jesus by allowing to us feed on him in our hearts by faith and with thanksgiving.

Fourth, we bring our material gifts to the table, offering back to God the first fruits of what he has blessed us with.

Fifth, we are energized as God gives gracious of himself to us in Jesus.

The idea is that in this time of discernment of Christ’s presence, we learn to live lives of commitment, forgiveness, reconciliation, worship, sacrificial generosity, and living by grace all the time. And we learn not just to live it all the time, but see it in any place. As we learn to discern Christ’s presence in these things, we join God on mission where he is at work.

So, I hope you can see how foundational what we do on Sunday morning is to a life of mission—because the discipline of the Table isn’t confined to Sunday Morning.

David Fitch suggests in his book Faithful Presence, that we think of the Discipline of the Lord’s Table has happening in three circles.

The first circle is the “close” circle. This is what happens on Sunday Morning. Here we gather as God’s faithful people. Christ is host and we are the guests at a family meal.

The second circle might be called the dotted circle. Here, we take the kind of life we discerned in and express in the close circle, and we live it out in our own homes, primarily among Christians but with a special space to welcome the stranger to a literal table, a real meal in the community. As people gather around the Christian’s table, Christ’s presence is brought into the neighborhood. Now, this still takes discernment! This isn’t just a fun barbeque but a time of intentional prayer, reconciliation, discussion, and explicit tending to the presence of Christ around a common meal.

We can think of the third circle as a half-circle or open circle. The half circle is the world where the hurting and broken people live their everyday lives. These are the corner coffee shops, the bars & pubs, the restaurants on busy streets. Fitch says,

Into these half circles Christians go, imitating Christ as he enters the homes of the marginalized, the publicans, and the sinners.

Here, like Jesus, we go, not as hosts inviting people to our table, but as guests, submitting ourselves to the hospitality of others.[1]

In the half circle we are especially weak, vulnerable, and out of control. It is an opportunity to identify with Jesus and tend to his presence in a special way, the way he tended to our presence by visiting the homes of those estranged from God.

We need all three circles. If we only practice the close circle, we have gone into maintenance-mode, and we’ve lost the mission of table fellowship in and with the world. If we practice only the dotted circle, we lose the crucial space to connect people in our neighborhoods and areas of influence to the presence of Christ.

Finally, if we attempt to practice only the half circle, we quickly become exhausted from the effort with not renewal at the close circle and sustaining relationships in the dotted circle.

Each of us has an opportunity today to evaluate how we are practicing this discipline in all three circles.

We can’t afford to neglect this discipline. It’s absolutely foundational, because the discipline of the Table comes to us straight from Jesus and leads us straight to Jesus. It is the first place where his abundant life is expressed among his faithful people. It challenges our social, economic, and political order and reorients us back to Jesus and his Lordship in his upside-down kingdom, where the weak are strong, the last are first, the lost are found. And it is the discipline that makes way for us to invite others into that kingdom.

[1] Fitch. Faithful Presence, p. 61

I tried the Impossible Burger, and I liked it

The brand new, totally plant-based Impossible Burger is a game changer for vegetarians like myself, and possibly for carnivores as well. This animal-meat alternative is basically indistinguishable from it’s less-sustainable counterparts (at least the fast-food versions) and is becoming more and more widely available.

I got mine at a burger spot here in Phoenix, and–aside from the usual ridiculous “gourmet burger” price–thoroughly enjoyed it.

Looking forward to being able to pick it up at retail locations eventually.

I cannot live a holy life

It really is true to say, “I cannot live a holy life,” but you can decide to let Jesus Christ make you holy. “You cannot serve the Lord…”— but you can place yourself in the proper position where God’s almighty power will flow through you. Is your relationship with God sufficient for you to expect Him to exhibit His wonderful life in you?
My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

Puzzle at the cabin

So grateful to have the opportunity to visit a cabin on the creek a couple of hours north of Phoenix every now and then. Wonderful times as a family a great break from the heat.

The man who created the web has some regrets

The increasing centralization of the Web, he says, has “ended up producing—with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform—a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human.”

Tim Berners-Lee

Think about that for a second. Is the centralization of the web truly anti-human? A bit dramatic to be sure, but I think this guy is on to something.

And if he’s right, this must be counteracted.

God's plan to change the world

In the beginning, out of love, God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) creates light, creates a world, creates human beings to reflect his love to one another and back to him as a kind of mirror, as living images of the loving creator. God walks with his people in the cool of the day.[1] They know his presence. They live in his presence.

Yet human beings rebelled against God in the garden of Eden and the whole world has suffered for millennia. The rift in relationship between God and humanity has caused us to wonder if God has left us.

We were meant to care for creation, yet we seem to cause environmental disaster after disaster, exploiting and abusing the land, the sea, the animals. I just read a news article that said we’ve managed make outer space a mess with hundreds of thousands of pieces of our trash.[2] Our disdainful and disrespectful attitude toward God’s cosmic sanctuary has led to unchecked destructive behavior with serious consequences for ourselves and even more serious consequences for our children, and our children’s children. I find myself asking,

Where is God with creation?

And of course it’s not just the environment and lesser creatures that we exploit and abuse.

We have a created a world that has been attempting to run on things racial injustice, the oppression of women, ignoring the plight of refugees and immigrants, enslaving children, murdering unborn babies, discarding the elderly and abandoning the mentally ill.

Where is God with the suffering?

Despite all our social and scientific “progress”, the kingdoms of this world remain caught in cycles of violence and fear directed toward one another.

Where is God with the nations?

In our own neighborhood of Sunnyslope, some children go hungry (especially in the summer), many families are struggling to make ends meet, we hear of many broken marriages, and the homeless are often treated as criminals.

Where is God with those in need of compassion?

In our own physical struggles, our own illness, our own broken relationships, our own financial catastrophes, haven’t we all asked ourselves, where is God with me?

Where is God?

I get that all this comes from our fallen nature, our pride, our sin-sickness and the curse that came upon creation as a result of those things, but I want to know: Where is God? Is there a plan to change the world and undo what we have done? And given all the serious issues in the world, am I wasting my time doing something like “church”? I need to know the answers to these questions because I can’t have faith to enter in these places and these situations unless God has entered them first. Unless God is already at work there. I’m not strong enough. I’ve bumped up against my limits and I know I can’t change the world on my own. None of us can!

But there’s Good News from God’s words written, the Holy Scriptures. We read there that

God is where he has always been: with his people.

There is a plan to change the world, and it is absolutely centered around Jesus Christ, and it absolutely involves you and me, together. The plan is God’s faithful presence in the world through his faithful people.  Even when Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden, God did not leave them. As they stood, naked and shivering in the cold of a cursed Earth, God clothed them.[3] Although they had hid from his presence, he came to them with loving care. The whole rest of the biblical story is about the God that we continue to hide from, coming to us, revealing himself to us.

First, he established a people through Israel to bless the world. He made a promise to Abraham that the whole world would be blessed through his offspring.[4] When God’s people had suffered for generations in slavery, wondering where God was, he proved that he had been with them every moment and indeed he would rescue them:

And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.

God had seen everything. None of this took him by surprise, because he was there the whole time.

Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

Moses knows he can’t change this system of oppression on his own. He can’t lead over half a million people on his own![5]

[God] said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”” (Exodus 3:9–12, ESV)

God’s presence enabled Moses and the people of the God to escape,

so they could fulfill God’s plan to be a light to the world as they served him and worshiped him. Of course, even though God led them closely, and his presence was palpable in clouds and fire and lightening and miracles, they still rebelled.

God’s people continued to go their own way—like Adam and Eve—and reject the presence of God. So God came even closer, in the person of Jesus Christ. God looked at the situation that seemed hopeless to humans, and God entered in. God became a human being.

This is called the Incarnation.

One of Jesus’s names is Emmanuel, God with us.

Jesus did everything the Israelites were always supposed to do, living a life that perfectly reflected the character of the Father. When he offered himself on the cross as a perfect offering for the sins of the world, eternal life was regained for all that simply believe. And this was the undoing of every evil thing humanity has done or will do.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:3–10, ESV)

God is bringing Heaven to Earth in Jesus! This is the plan. It’s always been the plan. And you are I part of that. We are witnesses to his faithful presence with his people in the world, and it’s that faithful presence that changes people. Not laws. Not human governments. Not even lots and lots of good deeds done according to human wisdom. Only God’s faithful presence can change our hearts to be more like his, and this our witness. We don’t do it on our own, though. Jesus said,

Go…and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV) Jesus is alive and has ascended to heaven, but he hasn’t left us. No, he’s given us his Spirit so he is always with us, his people. Through us, then, he continues his work in the world as we witness to his presence among us.

Although we each receive the Holy Spirit personally to dwell in our bodies,

the fullness of Christ’s presence is manifested in the community, the church.

In the Common English Bible, we read Ephesians 1:22-23:

God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:22–23, CEB)

Each of us has the fullness of God residing in us in the Holy Spirit, however, it is the church, acting together as one body, that expresses fullness of Christ. As the Spirit empowers us to express a diversity of gifts, we manifest the fullness of Christ, even alongside our flawed humanity.  As we each yield to the Spirit, the church moves beyond the individual to literally fill the world with presence of God as we go into the world as a community. It is the church, acting together as one body with Christ at the head, that is God’s chosen instrument to manifest his kingdom on earth in the present time.

We can’t overstate the importance of this. There is no other way of organizing, gathering, or identifying ourselves that takes precedence over the church. In other words, we belong to the church before we belong to our country, before we belong to our political party, before we belong even to our biological family.

Eugene Peterson paraphrases this verse like this:

The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” (Ephesians 1:23, The Message)

So, is it a waste of time to “do church” in the midst of the craziness of the world? Absolutely not, because the church is how Christ is faithfully present in the world until he comes again in the flesh.

As the church manifests his faithful presence, Christ will bring healing, hope, and help to the hurting creation…but we must be engaged in the business of discerning his presence among us so we can witness to it faithfully ourselves.

The church gets stuck when we stop tending to the presence of Christ.

We get stuck when we start focusing on self-preservation or keeping people happy, or even worse, when we look to powers of this world (namely, government and money) to accomplish what we want to accomplish. When this happens, we’ve lost our way, and we must return to faithfully discerning the presence of Jesus.[6]

  Christ is God with us. His faithful presence is what makes us a Christian community. His faithful presence expressed through us is what will make a difference in the world around us. Yet, we often miss the presence of Christ. We get distracted. We get tired. We get busy. In order to faithfully witness to the presence of Jesus among us to the world, we have to discern the presence of Jesus. So, over the next several weeks we will be looking together at the Scriptures, and we will find that

God has empowered the church to discern and express the faithful presence of Christ by being faithfully present ourselves.

We have been called and equipped to be faithfully present with one another, with our neighbors, and with the wider world all around us—and in doing that—witness to the presence Christ.

In this crazy world, we often wonder where God is. Remember, God is faithfully present where he has always been: with his faithful people, the church.

[1] Genesis 3:8

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/10/24/space-is-filling-up-with-garbage-heres-why-we-should-tax-it/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.de8485db8be8

[3] Genesis 3:21

[4] Genesis 15:5–6

[5] Exodus 12:37-38

[6] David Fitch, Faithful Presence, p. 30

Looking forward to the ESV Anglican Edition

I’ve been wanting/needing a solid pew Bible that will include the Deuterocanon, and the English Standard Verson is our current reading and preaching translation for public worship at DMAC, so I’m excited about a recent announcement that an Anglican edition will be published soon with the whole of Scripture as the Anglican Church has received it.

It’s an important step forward for our common life together, and seems to solidify the ESV as truly a standard text for the North American Anglicanism.

While the ESV remains a fantastic translation, it’s not without its issues, from controversial renderings in Genesis to the lack of appropriate gender-inclusive language.* It’s also rendered at a fairly high reading level (about 10th grade). In many missional contexts, the Common English Bible seems to be a viable easier-to-read alternative that includes the Deuterocanon as well.

I currently use both the ESV and the CEB frequently in my ministry, and now the ESV will be even more useful.

  • Please note this article states that the ESV has been closed for further revision; this decision has since been reversed